How to Make Neurons ROCK — Toolbox with 20 methods

Put your powerpoint presentations into the bin. How to get into the flow with your audience: from fish bowls, over line-ups to scientific standup comedies. An EUSJA session at PCST 2016 Istanbul packed a toolbox. A contribution to World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The goal is dialogue (c) C. Gießler / Springer Verlag
The goal is dialogue (c) C. Gießler / Springer Verlag


EUSJA president emeritus Satu Lipponen, Finish health journalist, introduced the session with philosophy and a catchword: We need to come from I Mode to We Mode.

Marc Denis Weitze, German science communicator, laid out the roots. It all started with the „Deutsches Museum“, founded in Munich in the beginning of the 20th century. In a farsighted approach, the technical museum was to involve the public in questions of science in technology, in an explanatory, joyous manner.


Detrimental to this turned out PUSH, public understanding of science and humanities, practiced in the 1990’s. In some ways, it literally pushed the public to understand science.
The current state of the art is a balanced two way communication. Dialogue tries to close the gap between science and society, develop consensus and include the entire society. Everyone with a vested interest becomes a stakeholder.

Not PUSHing people to science (c) C. Gießler / Springer Verlag
Not PUSHing people to science (c) C. Gießler / Springer Verlag

Maren Schüpphaus, German facilitator of participative workshops, laid out her experience with the European GAMBA project. It consulted patients and lay people about treatment of arthritis with stem cells and especially explored the ethical aspects of the question. After an empowerment phase with hearings, the lay people fed back their newly won expertise and delivered recommendations. They took the role of experts and made the academic experts listen to them, to some extent with new insights for them.


Participants of PCST workshop (c) W. Goede
Participants of PCST workshop (c) W. Goede

Then the practice. As an ice breaker, Maren did a couple of sociometric line-ups with the participants. She asked them whether they knew the various methods to engage the public and whether they were applied in their respective countries. The line-up showed plenty of personal knowledge, but little application on the national level. Then the plenary broke up into small mumble groups to find out how the methods could be applied to scientific issues in their countries. Finally they reported the results. A colleague from Brazil, for example, saw a good chance to use interactive methods in the battle against Zika.

Joint Workshop of EUSJA, German Science Writers TELI, Network Public Spirit, organized by S. Lipponen, M. Schüpphaus, M.-D. Weitze, W. Goede, (c) Lipponen
Joint Workshop of EUSJA, German Science Writers TELI, Network Public Spirit, organized by S. Lipponen, M. Schüpphaus, M.-D. Weitze, W. Goede, (c) Lipponen

Before this exercise, Wolfgang Chr. Goede, German and Colombian science journalist, had packed a toolbox of applicable methods to close the gap between science and the public. He presented them in the Pecha Kucha format, 20 slides in 20 seconds each, only pictures, without text, as an initial intent to make the neurons rock, without getting into lengthy explanations.

  1. Pecha Kucha with the 20/20 ratio, 20 slides (without text) in 20 secs regular Power Point. Under „power point and evil“ millions of entries can be found in google why people resent the common overkill with information. Make it slim and easy, adhere to the KISS principle, keep it simple and short, some even say „stupid“ instead of simple, plainly speaking: no academic orgies, simplify your stuff, rigorously, please!
  1. Inclusive and relaxing, get into the flow with your audience. Don’t try to be the guru and the guy that knows everything, utilize the audience’s experience and expertise, for example by means of Robert Jungk’s future workshops. It consists of three distinct phases: criticize, vision, then realize.Tool_box_icon-01.svg
  1. Augusto Boal’s Legislative Theatre, also Theatre of the Oppressed. Citizens act out on political conflicts in the public and thus trigger reform legislation. Everyone can step in and take a role as an actor. Same can be applied to scientific issues and conflict. There is lots of conflict to be revealed and bridged, also in science and especially at the border of science and society. Boal’s method is very much related to the democratic pedagogy of his Brazilian fellow countryman Paulo Freire.
  1. Sociometric line-ups and constellations, similiar to family constellations after Bert Hellinger (or „politics in the room“ after Ruth Sander). Have your stakeholders (represented by anyone in the audience) move about the room, have them take a position, watch their distance and postures as related to specific questions and issues. This reveals where they are really at.
  1. The classic: Science in the Pub, explaining nerdy stuff in a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere with a stimulating drink, i.e. the impact of alcohol (and other stimulants) on the human brain.
  1. Apply the power of Storytelling to your presentations and interactive formats and give them a taste or better smell of the campfire; you may learn from one thousand and one nights, the art of allegories in the oriental world, apply them to science and technology and how we deal with them.
  1. Science Slam, also Expert Slam, developed from Poetry Slam. A competitive workout of students and scientists, presenting papers, even Einstein bashing is possible, but be aware: You may be knocked out by the audience. It evaluates you, thumbs up and also down. And never more than 8 minutes! Similiar are TED talks (Technology, Entertainment Design), the art and ability to present something in the most fascinating way, also with a ceiling, up to 18 minutes.
  1. Students’ Parliaments, Student Debates and Debating Societies come to terms with scientific and technological issues, as they relate for example to the environment. Speakers of pro and contra fractions try to win the support of their constituency. Note: Democracy and science are akin, many times go hand in hand.

    Next generation solar power: artificial photosynthesis, algae generate energy (c) acatech
    Next generation solar power: artificial photosynthesis, algae generate energy (c) acatech
  1. Like storytelling, Science Comics are a very useful tool. As applied in Germany by acatech, the drawings and art work demonstrate artificial photosynthesis and how algae can be used to produce energy. Also cartoons fulfill the needs, as an increasing number of books are published as cartoons.
  1. Inflated are Science Cafés. They are similiar to Science in the Pub, more broad-based, often with a mix of presentions, workshops, theatre, discussions. Traditionally, experts meet with lay people at separate tables for discussions in small groups To stand out with a unique profile, try to be inventive and provacative, enhance them, i.e. with a good title.
  1. World Café, very dynamical, participants move from table to table, where different aspects are being discussed, lots of humane chemistry ignites the process. The results are written on paper tablecoths. They document the process and results.
  1. Citizen Conferences or Consensus Conferences. A European project called GAMBA included patients and lay people to assess whether arthritis could be treated with stem cells and especially the ethics.
  1. Science Shop, a Dutch platform, which has been around for decades, involves citizens in everyday scientific questions, such as testing vegetables and food in experimental setups.
  1. Patient groups and self-help setups develop new therapies. 30 years anniversary of Munich’s Self-help Center reveals great potential in depression and anxiety and relieving the official health care system.

    German Science Debate: Audience sets the agenda (c) Goede
    German Science Debate: Audience sets the agenda (c) Goede
  1. Citizen Science: Citizens work like scientists, collect data, analyse them and draw conclusions. They enhance practical research. Units could be included to seminars and conferences.
  1. Science Debates with inverted panels. The audience sets the agenda. The Scientists respond. Jointly the conclusions are drawn. Include the public at the start, before the pipelines are laid. This format was invented by the German Science Writers TELI and beats the inflation of science debates.
  1. Bar Camp, everyone gets a chance to make a presentation, modern communicaton technology is widely applied. Related is also the hackathon, composed of hack and marathon, often geared towards the development of new software. These formats are part of „unconferencing“, cutting down the offical conference overhead, as introduced by Open Space, its creator Harrison Owen and his philosophy: The most exciting and meaningful things happen during coffee breaks.
  1. Stand up comedians,e. the group „Big Van Theory“. Comedy around central scientific questions like Big Bang, neuro enhancement, GM foods, nano medicine and others, with the involvement of the public and the audience. Very entertaining, lots of laughter. See also the TV series „Big Bang Theory“ with its hero, the nutty physicist Sheldon Cooper.
    Vulnerable neighborhoods: Empowerment with aerial surveys (c) C. Aguirre/Parque Explora
    Vulnerable neighborhoods: Empowerment with aerial surveys (c) C. Aguirre/Parque Explora

  1. Science at the margin, for the marginalized. One of the frontrunners of this format is Claudia Aguirre, Exploration Park Medellín, Colombia. This museum was initial in converting a dangerous garbage dump into a park. In the process, staffers applied a lot of education and science to vulnerable populations and made them smart about taking care of their community. As a follow-up, marginalized neighborhoods in Medellin were taught to use balloons and cameras. With the pictures they put themselves on the city map.Claudia Augirre: Socially inclusive science communication. Science Centers. Which role can they play to participate in the social reconstruction of the city
  1. Fish Bowls put participants, especially not the most outspoken, into the inner circle of the seminar to voice their opinion. This center maintains a constant mix of speakers. But: You may fill this bowl also with a punch, mix the presented methods, use them as ingredients for new recipes, cocktails and innovative platforms. Compose science festivals with them, insert speed dating, scientific gospel, cabaret, Why not Gioconda, which is to provide the basis for a sketch or a piece of drama, then get participants to complete it and perform it. Everything goes!

And please note that these interactive methods only flourish in open societies. Freedom of the mind and freedom of art and expression is the prerequisite of these methods. That’s why this toolbox, developed in April 2016 in Turkey, was posted right before the Word Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Wrap-up of session on PCST website -> (go to foot –>> Download Paper).

Check also Maren Schuepphaus’ Report “Science Communication Rocking Neurons — but how”? —>>> PCST 2016-04-27 Neurons Schüpphaus – final [Kompatibilitätsmodus] medium



imgres-1This PCST workshop was organized and realized by EUSJA, Network Public Spirit, German Science Writers TELI.







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